by Stephanie Morrill
Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
I imagine most of us have had Michael Crichton quoted to us during a writing class or a time of frustration with a manuscript: "Books aren't written—they're rewritten." (Though I've often heard—and probably even misquoted myself—it said as "Good books aren't written—they're rewritten.")
This is one of those rare pieces of often repeated writing advice that I think is completely true. Even if the original quote doesn't have the word "good" in there, I think it's implied in the statement that we're talking about books worth reading.
So what does it mean for you and me that we don't write [good] books, we rewrite them? Here's what I've realized it means for me:
1. It isn't worth my time to painstakingly plan my novel.
I often think through plot points before I start a book. (I've talked about how I plot here.) For some writers, very intense plotting appears to work. For me, I've learned that when I'm trying to plot out every detail it's because I'm trying to remove the messy part of the creative process. But creating is inherently messy (more on that in point three) and I can't plan my way out of that.
2. It's pointless to try and make my first draft read like a great book.
3. It means the creative process is a messy beast.
I write my first draft. I give it six weeks to rest. Then I reread my book, and I see a lot of things that need to change. Like, a lot. And I rewrite about 50 to 75 percent of it.
I'm a person who loves efficiency. Having to rewrite that much does not feel efficient.
I've tried plotting more before I write the first draft, and that doesn't seem to do me any good. I still end up stumbling along the way and discovering problems that I hadn't anticipated. No matter how much I plan ahead, I cannot seem to avoid having to basically rewrite the majority of my book.
I'm currently reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of Pixar. I've been comforted by all the stories in there about how their movies evolve along the process. That Monsters, Inc. started out as being about a man who didn't like his day job, and Up was originally about two princes living in a castle up in the clouds. Aren't we glad they reworked those stories to make them great?
As wonderful as it would be for my first draft to be amazing, that's not the nature of them. Creating and discovering a story is a messy endeavor, and if my desire is to write a great story, then I have to embrace the hard work of editing.
4. It means writing a book and editing a book are two different things.
You'll have to learn how to edit the same way you learned how to write—practice. The first time you undertake editing a book, you won't be very efficient. It might take you a long time and it will feel messy. If you keep at it, you will learn and grow and get better, the same as you do with any skill.
What's some of the writing advice you've heard most often? What advice has been most helpful to you?